Read Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club Online

Authors: Sara Bennett

Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction

Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club (22 page)

BOOK: Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club
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Chapter 31

ir Henry and Mr. Eversham are in the study, miss.”

The footman gave her a curious look. Tina knew she wasn’t at her best but tried to keep her emotions inside just a little bit longer. She hid her trembling hands behind her back.

“I need to see them.”

“They asked not to be disturbed,” the footman said, with the air of one used to diverting pesky visitors from his master.

Tina decided then that she would have to be rude, very rude. She gave him a push, catching him by surprise, and flung open the door before he could stop her, bursting in. Three men were gathered about a huge oak desk and they looked up, startled, at her abrupt entry.

“Tina?” Frowning, Richard moved toward her.

Distraught, Tina tried to speak, but she was suddenly too breathless to get a word out and leaned against the back of a chair, feeling faint.

She felt his hand on her arm, warm, supporting her. It felt wonderful, and all she wanted to do was curl into his chest and cling there like a limpet. Unfortunately, due to her recent discoveries about him, she felt obliged to shake his hand off. And that was his fault, too.

Behind her the footman nodded at a gesture from Sir Henry and closed the door. “My dear Miss Smythe, whatever is the matter? Sit down and catch your breath. Will, get some brandy, would you?”

Will Jackson placed a glass into her hand and Tina sipped at the brandy. As it warmed her insides she began to recover herself a little. Richard was still by the door, watching her, his slanting brows drawn down over eyes that were uncharacteristically serious.

“There was a man in the library,” she spoke at last. “Two men. One of them was Mr. Branson, and one of them was . . .” She shuddered violently.

“Tina, what happened?”

Richard came to stand at her side, but she turned her face away so she didn’t have to see him and so wasn’t confused by her feelings.

“Let the girl alone, Richard,” Sir Henry said quietly. “Go on, Miss Smythe. Take your time. Tell us what you saw and heard.”

Tina had a good memory, and she repeated the conversation almost word perfectly, unable to help glancing at Richard when she recounted Branson’s vow to kill him.
Shoot him right between the eyes.
The glass shook violently in her hand, and Will removed it with a sympathetic smile.

“He saw me through the window,” she burst out.

“Branson?” Sir Henry said quickly. He nodded at Will, and the young man slipped from the room.

But Tina shook her head. “No, the other one. The thief. The one with the cold eyes. Pale blue eyes.”

Sir Henry and Richard looked at one another, exchanging a wealth of meaning without speaking. Tina found it irritating, as if they were keeping something secret from her—which, of course, they were.

“Branson,” said Sir Henry with a frown.

“No real surprise there,” answered Richard. “I know you didn’t want to believe he’d tried to kill you, but it looks like we have the truth from his own mouth.”

“And he wasn’t working alone,” said Sir Henry. “Is this other man the Captain? Sounds more like another member of the gang. You didn’t recognize him?” Sir Henry turned to Tina, eyes piercing beneath his bushy brows, his bandage pushed up at one side like a strange sort of hat. “Are you sure?”

“I’d never seen him before, sir.”

“And he saw you?”

She nodded uncomfortably, remembering those cold eyes and the nightmare face through the window.

Sir Henry leaned closer to Richard, his murmuring too low for Tina to hear more than a word here and there. They seemed to be making plans. Why couldn’t they say it aloud, so she could hear? It was very annoying, especially when their conversation probably concerned her.

Eventually Richard came and took her hand, raising her to her feet. She was too surprised to shake him off this time and stood, gazing up at his face and waiting to hear what he had to say. He certainly looked very serious.

“You are in danger, Miss Smythe,” he said.

She turned to Sir Henry for confirmation, but he only gave a nod.

“The man at the window . . .” she asked, but it was Richard who answered.

“He is part of a group headed by a man called the Captain. A dangerous man who has caused trouble all over England, and more than one death.”

Richard didn’t sound like himself. He was no longer charming and careless with laughing eyes, no longer the man who’d held her in his arms and whispered her name in the throes of passion.

This man was a stranger.

“So you think I am in danger?” she asked him cautiously.

“I don’t think they would hesitate to silence you, Miss Smythe, if they thought you could point one of them out in a court of law.”

Remembering again the face at the window, Tina believed him utterly. “What should I do?” She was visualizing fleeing to somewhere isolated, like the Lake District, living in a small cottage with several burly guards. It wasn’t a pleasant idea, but if it was necessary . . .

Richard sighed and squeezed the hand he was still holding. “I will have to take you under my protection.”

Her heart leaped and almost immediately sank again.

Under his protection?
Being by his side, constantly? After what had passed between them and what she now knew about him? Tina wasn’t sure she could bear it, even for the sake of staying alive. “I don’t think—”

But before she could continue her protest there was a commotion outside, and the door was flung open.

Mr. Branson was there, his arms pulled behind his back, being manhandled by Will Jackson into the room. Richard hurried over to help, and between the two of them they got the struggling Branson into a chair in front of the desk, facing Sir Henry, who sat on the other side. Mr. Branson looked flushed and furious, but there was something in his eyes that gave lie to his protests.

He knew why he was here, and when his gaze fell on Tina, he suddenly deflated like a pricked balloon, all of the hot air going out of him. Tina watched in fascination as he began to make excuses for his actions, telling the very man he’d tried to shoot that it was his fault.

“This was all mine, Arlington, until you took it from me.” He waved his arm about the room. “Stole it from me.”

“I paid you a good price, Branson.”

“A pittance.”

“You sold because you could no longer afford to hold on to it. I don’t say you were careless with your money or that it was your fault, but neither was it mine that you had to sell.”

Branson opened his mouth to continue the argument, but Richard put a stop to it.

“Enough! Miss Smythe saw you in the library with another man. What is his name?”

Branson’s expression became sly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But with Richard and Will firing questions at him it didn’t take long for him to give them the answer they wanted. “Sutton. His name is Sutton. I don’t know where he lives—a hole in the ground probably. He’s a thug and a thief, he’ll do anything the Captain wants him to do.”

Richard smiled a nasty smile. “Oh yes? Well now we want to talk to you about the Captain.”

“Don’t know any Captain.”

“Oh come on!” Richard roared.

Tina jumped.

“Do you know what it’s like to spend twenty years in a tiny cell in a filthy gaol, Branson? Or would you prefer the gallows? The noose and the crowds jeering and laughing, the smell of fear as you step out of the cart and climb the steps. Just imagine that’s your last moment on earth; just imagine that’s the shameful legacy you’re leaving your wife.”

Will murmured at her side, “It is vitally important we discover this man’s name, Miss Smythe,” as if he feared she might be shocked.

Richard shot a glance at her, but there was no smile. This was deadly serious stuff. “Tell us who he is, and things might go easier for you, Branson. I might ask for the firing squad instead of the noose.”

“We already have a fair idea of the Captain’s identity,” Will added, and managed to crease his usually amiable features into a fearsome mask.

“Do you now?” Branson muttered.

“Tell us, old chap,” Sir Henry put in, “and I’ll see your name is kept out of this. I know you didn’t mean to shoot at me. I’m quite prepared to let bygones be bygones.”

“Oh God, what a mess.” Branson put his hands over his face, his shoulders slumped, but Tina suspected this was more to give himself time to think than because he was in any way repentant.

Outside they could hear laughter as some of the guests took part in a game of croquet between showers. Horace’s voice rose above the others, declaring himself hopelessly beaten, followed by Charles’s protests.

Branson took his hands away. “I have your word?” he demanded of Sir Henry. “I will not be punished or brought to any kind of justice?”

“My word,” Sir Henry agreed.

Branson nodded. “Very well. The Captain is here, you’re right. His name is Lord Horace Gilfoyle.”

Tina gasped aloud, she couldn’t help it. “Horace?” she cried, her tone shrill with shock and disbelief. “Horace would

“Thank you, Miss Smythe,” Richard cut her off.

Branson was smirking, and Tina had absolutely no doubt he was lying again. Why didn’t the others demand the truth from him? How could they believe such nonsense without a single protest?

And yet it seemed that they could.

A moment later Branson was hustled from the room, and Richard was escorting Tina back to her room. They walked in silence, hers angry and sullen, and his . . . well, she no longer knew him well enough to guess what he was thinking.

“I’m sorry if I frightened you in there,” he said at last, not looking at her. “We needed that name.
needed that name if I’m to protect you.”

“I’d prefer someone else protect me if it’s really necessary.”

He shot her a glance that was more frustration than anger. “Your life is in danger, Tina. This man is a murderer. He killed—”

“Horace is innocent, Mr. Eversham. He would never hurt anyone.”

“Perhaps you should marry him then.”

She glared at him. “I was intending to, remember?”

She thought she heard him sigh, but a moment later they reached her room, and he said, “Stay here,” in a voice that did not invite argument. “I am going to lock the door. I’ll send your maid to you.”

“Richard, please, just
to me!”

But he wouldn’t meet her eyes. He was angry with her, she could feel it, see it in his face. She’d made him break his promise, and he hated her for it.

With a sinking heart she heard the lock turn, and a moment later he walked away.

ichard was angry. Very angry. But he wasn’t angry at Tina, he was angry with himself. What on earth had possessed them all to think it was a good idea to combine a social weekend with their hunt for the elusive Captain? Certainly it had been Sir Henry’s plan, but he might have persuaded him otherwise had he been thinking with his brain instead of his cock. Now Tina was at risk, and if anything happened to her, he could never forgive himself.

And she was out of sorts with him, and he was yet to learn why.

Was it because of what had happened in the folly—despite her being a willing participant—or was it because of his belief in Gilfoyle’s guilt? But she’d been angry before Branson gave up her friend. And the way she’d snatched her hand from his had nothing to do with modesty or fear of their relationship’s being discovered.

Her green eyes had been glittering with emotion.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. No time now to worry about Tina and what the future might hold, he had to concentrate on his job. Gilfoyle would be brought to Sir Henry’s study and questioned, and if Sutton, the man Tina was so frightened of, could not be found, then he would have to protect her until he was.

No matter how repellent she found that prospect.

When he reached the study he could hear loud voices from within, mostly Horace’s aristocratic tones. The man was furious, and if he was guilty of being the Captain, then he was putting on a good show of outraged innocence, but then Richard had always suspected Horace of being a fine actor.

Gilfoyle turned to face him when he opened the door, and his face darkened, blue eyes narrowing. In that moment he seemed to be blaming everything that was happening to him on Richard, and his words confirmed it.

“Eversham! I might have known it. What the bloody blazes do you think you’re doing? I am Lord Horace Gilfoyle and I will not be treated like this. I have friends in the House of Lords, and they will see you thrashed.”

Sir Henry cleared his throat. “We do not answer to the House of Lords, Lord Horace. We are a select group with complete autonomy. In other words, we act as we think fit.”

Horace looked as if he might fly at them and attack them, but a moment later he regained control of himself. He sat down and glared at Richard, still choosing to blame him. His tone was scathing.

“What is this ridiculous rubbish you’re spouting? I know nothing about any Captain, and I’m certainly not he. You know who I am. Ask Miss Smythe. We’ve been friends for years and . . . well, I am hoping to marry her.”

Richard gave a snort of laughter, which didn’t help the situation.

“Stop it the both of you!” Sir Henry roared. “Now,” he went on, when all was quiet and everyone paying attention, “we have a reliable witness who has identified you as the Captain, Lord Horace. I won’t listen to any more of your lies. Give yourself up, and it will be the better for you.”

Gilfoyle sat sullenly, his chin on his chest, his arms folded, rather like a naughty schoolboy, thought Richard. He leaned over the chair, into the other man’s face, and said, “Give yourself up, Gilfoyle. My brother died at your hands, and I’m not going to let you get away without punishment. I’ve spent the last two years pursuing you, and here you are. I’m going to enjoy watching you hang.”

Gilfoyle’s chin jerked up, and he stared back at him, reading the hard truth in Richard’s eyes. “You’re insane,” he spat. “Completely and utterly insane. And to think I was contemplating using your services to win Tina over. By God, what a narrow escape!”

BOOK: Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club
10.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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